There is a song from 30 years ago, written in Yiddish, which translated, goes like this:
In a corner stands a Jew
And he's crying for his child going to war
And his tears are flowing like water
As he stands and he prays
To his father in heaven:
Father, haven’t we had enough?
That question is just as true now, in 2014, as it was then in 1985. Haven’t we had enough? Must we continue sending our sons and daughters to the IDF? And the answer is as true now as it was then: No one wants to send our children to the army, putting their lives in danger as they watch over us and keep us safe. And yet, send them we must, because there are those who would still wish harm upon us, as a nation and as a people.
It is hard to ask a mother to send her son off to fight, to learn how to shoot a gun accurately, to sit in a tank and ride off to face an enemy that lives and dies by his undying hatred for Israel. And yet, we ask, knowing that there is a chance they may not come home. But the parents don’t send their children – the sons and daughters of Israel come willingly. At the age of 18, when millions of their age group around the world take a year off to travel the world, or begin their university degree, in Israel they report, donning their uniforms and bravely taking their place on the ramparts.
In Israel, Memorial Day and Independence Day go hand in hand, showing how we cannot celebrate our independence without commemorating those who Alterman titled “The silver platter on which the Jewish state was given.” That duality of sorrow and happiness will be shown across the country, as groups of young, and not so young men, visit their fallen comrades’ families. They will come to lessen the mother’s sorrow, but she will end up comforting them. They will come in tears after visiting his grave, but will leave with smiles as even after all these years, his squad mates show up like clockwork, never missing even once.
Isaiah wrote “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” The sages teach that there were hundreds of prophets, but only those that carried a message for prosperity were recorded in the Bible. We must heed Isaiah’s prophecy, yearning for the day when peace will come with our neighbors, and we will not train for war anymore. But until that day, we mark and commemorate those who have given their last full measure of devotion, adhering to what King David wrote in Psalms: “Behold the Guardian of Israel will neither slumber nor sleep”.
The writer is a former Deputy Foreign Minister.